Across the nation, law enforcement officials are trying to get out of the mental health business. For emergency calls that don’t require a police response, they seek partners with behavioral health specialists and others in support of alternative response strategies.
A range of technology tools — including next-generation data centers, video feeds, data analytics and visualization solutions — can help police departments effectively engage with outside partners.
Experts point to five best practices for amplifying technology to drive an effective alternative response strategy.
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1. Share Data Between Agencies
The National Institute of Standards and Technology urges departments to develop interagency data sharing partnerships. “Build inter-agency commissions, task forces, working groups, etc., charged with identifying the agencies’ collective data sharing interoperability goals, model use cases, requirements, and benchmarks of success,” NIST recommends. “These bodies can build the foundation for a public safety-wide data sharing strategy.”
2. Leverage Analytics to Dispatch the Right Professional
In Washington, D.C., data analytics helps drive an alternative response initiative aimed at funneling 911 calls to appropriate mental health teams. “We need to efficiently acquire enough information on the 911 side to make the decision on whether we should send the call over to the Department of Behavioral Health,” says Cleo Subido, interim director of the city’s Office of Unified Communications. “The data analytics helps with that: It shows us how are we doing and helps us to fine-tune the process.”
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3. Use Video to Expand the Pool of Available Resources
Video streaming offers a means for police to tap expertise outside the law enforcement community. Rather than having a behavioral health specialist respond directly, potentially putting that person at risk, officers on the scene can bring in such experts via video link. “By having them available via video, you still get their expertise, but you remove that threat,” says Alison Brooks, worldwide research vice president of public safety at IDC.
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4. Invest in Data Center Modernization
A modernized data center enables an alternative response by synthesizing data from multiple feeds, including cellphones, on-scene video and social media feeds. But police departments will need to invest in order to realize that potential. “Material support is particularly needed for the development of tools that integrate and convert data from a variety of sources into specific open formats,” according to NIST.
5. Bolster Communications with Outside Organizations
To collaborate with outside agencies, police departments need robust call center capabilities that enable them to hand off calls seamlessly and share insights. To respond effectively without putting anyone in harm’s way, police and social workers must be able to delve into historical information together to quickly build context around an emergency call. “Safety is always our No. 1 concern, and we create that safety net through good communications,” Subido says.
Alternative responses can help police departments pare down the workload by shifting the burden of responding to calls that don’t require law enforcement. Experts say this is just sound policy: It’s an effective use of resources, and it helps minimize the chance that a police presence will escalate a nonviolent situation.
Technology best practices can help police departments engage with outside partners more effectively, ensuring the appropriate response for a given situation.